Are academic economists ‘in touch’ with voters and politicians?

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Question 1: Do you agree that the economics profession needs an institutional change that promotes the ability to communicate more effectively with policy-makers and the public at large and to make clear when economists have a united view; and do you agree that we need to introduce leadership to help achieve this improvement through coordinated efforts?

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Question 2: What do you think is the most likely reason that a majority of UK voters went against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Question 3: Voters chose to leave the EU for non-economic reasons.

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Question 4: Voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward (for example, because they thought the arguments put forward by macroeconomists with dissenting views made more sense or because voters have little faith in economists in general).

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Question 5: Voters think that the preferences of economists do not align with their own preferences. (This includes the possibility that they thought that the predicted negative economic consequences would not affect them personally).

Do you agree this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Question 6: Economists did not explain the reasons for this consensus in sufficiently clear language.

Do you agree this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Question 7: Voters did not know that there was near-unanimity among economists.

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Summary

The outcome of the UK’s referendum on EU membership has prompted much soul-searching in the economics profession, which was nearly unanimous in anticipating negative economic consequences from a vote for Brexit. The July 2016 Centre for Macroeconomics survey of experts asked for views on the role played by economic arguments in the referendum outcome, and whether institutional change is needed in the way that the findings of academic economic research – and the views of the profession as a whole – are communicated.

While opinions are divided, many respondents who do not advocate institutional change still see considerable problems in the relationship of the academic macroeconomic community with policy-makers and the public at large.

 

Background

Following the referendum decision for the UK to leave the European Union (EU), policy-makers in both the UK and the EU face will face some difficult choices. These choices are likely to have non-trivial and long-lasting consequences, and macroeconomists can offer guidance on their macroeconomic aspects. This raises questions not only about what macroeconomists can do to obtain a good understanding of the needs of the countries involved, but also about the way that the macroeconomics profession as a whole can effectively make its position known to policy-makers and the public. Before the referendum, there was

near unanimity in the profession on the negative economic consequences of a vote for Brexit.[1] There are obviously many aspects that matter besides economic arguments and the outcomes of elections and referenda are typically not easy to understand. But some have argued that neither the economic arguments nor the sureness of economists’ views reached voters and policy-makers.

Paul Johnson, who is director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), argues that the profession itself is responsible for these failings.[2] He gives three reasons:

  • First, the profession has failed to communicate basic economic concepts. In terms of arguments relevant to the Brexit referendum, he mentions the mistaken beliefs that a fall in the exchange rate will make UK citizens richer and that there is a fixed number of jobs in the economy.
     
  • Second, he points out that there is a ‘collective lack of speed, agility and focus on issues of overwhelming importance.

     

  • Third, there is a lack of leadership. In particular, the communication of economists’ views is left to individuals and institutes such as the IFS, the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), the Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM) and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

Evidently, there is not a (prestigious) institution with the resources and skill to take serious action when the economics profession as a whole is so convinced that some important pieces of knowledge need to be revealed effectively and strongly. One institution that comes to mind is the Royal Economic Society (RES), but it is not currently set up to fulfil such a role. In fact, a visit to the RES home page shows little mention of Brexit.[3] Similarly, although the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) has devoted attention to Brexit on Vox, their portal for research-based policy analysis and commentary, as an organisation they have not been part of this discussion. A reason for these organisations not to adopt institutional positions on such questions is that they operate as inclusive networks of researchers.

Simon Wren Lewis suggests that ‘Failing to have a collective voice was compensated for on this occasion by letters and polls. … And right from the start, the long-term costs of Brexit were expressed in term of costs for the average household.’ He thinks that part of the problem is ‘the lack of knowledge of economics (and in this case Europe) among many political commentators’.[4] He adds that Paul Johnson’s critique ‘ is like blaming scientists for not warning enough about climate change.’

There is also the possibility that the issue is not (just) about communication. There is the possibility that economists are simply not in touch with the problems that UK citizens typically face. Most academic macroeconomists interact frequently with institutions such as the Bank of England and HM Treasury (HMT), but less so with institutions such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which focus more directly on economic and social problems experienced by individuals and communities. So the issue may be that the economics profession is not just seen as part of the class that benefits from the modern economy, it is part of a different class, a privileged class that especially benefits from EU membership.

This CFM survey focuses on the question of whether some change is needed in the economics profession – and in particular whether (at least) some institutional change is needed to communicate views of economists more effectively and possibly to represent the views of the profession as a whole.

In other fields it is not unusual for prestigious institutions to search the public spotlight for important issues. For example, recently the Royal College of Nurses put out a warning on funding cuts and their likely negative consequences to the nation’s health.[5] Such statements receive wide coverage in the press. Moreover, the press typically simply reports these statements and often provides additional background information. Views of economists are also aired in the media, but are usually accompanied with a disagreeing opinion even when few in the profession hold dissenting opinions.

Institutional changes in the economics profession?

The first question asks whether we should seriously consider ‘some’ type of institutional change in the economics profession. We understand that it is difficult to answer this question without providing a specific proposal. Panel members who think that some change is needed may very well differ in what kind of change is desired. Here we just want to find out whether the members of our profession think that we should seriously aim for some substantial changes or whether we should not.

Question 1: Do you agree that the economics profession needs an institutional change that promotes the ability to communicate more effectively with policy-makers and the public at large and to make clear when economists have a united view; and do you agree that we need to introduce leadership to help achieve this improvement through coordinated efforts?

Forty-one panel members answered this question of which 44% either agree or strongly agree, 7% neither agree nor disagree, and 49% either disagree or strongly disagree. Weighted with self-assessed confidence, the balance shifts towards agree: 48% either agree or strongly agree and 46% either disagree or strongly disagree.

Although opinions seem to be split, the results of this survey question are still remarkable for two reasons:

  • First, as indicated in the accompanying comments, many panel members who do not think that the profession needs ‘an institutional change … and introduce leadership’ still point out that there are problems in the relationship of the academic macroeconomic community with policy-makers and the public at large.
     
  • Second, it is telling that almost half of the panel members think that the problems are serious enough to consider a substantial change in how the profession is organised.

This summary starts by reviewing some of the problems that the profession faces according to the panel members. Next, we discuss the reasons given why a change in the profession is either not desirable or not feasible. The discussion of this survey question ends with some proposals put forward by those who think that some change is needed.

Several commentators argue that some economic problems that are important to many are not getting sufficient attention by academics. Charles Bean (London School of Economics, LSE) writes that ‘Academic economists need to be much better engaged with the concerns of policy makers and the public. Moreover generally speaking the profession has gone backward in this regard over the past thirty years’ Ray Barrell (Brunel) points out that ‘the profession holds policy advice in low regard’. Specific examples given are distributional and regional issues and in particular their relationship with trade and migration. Social cohesion and political stability are also mentioned.

Nicholas Oulton (LSE) notes that ‘the economics profession is quite happy to discuss the effects of ethnic conflict on growth but in Africa. But any such discussion about Britain is either taboo or dismissed as non-economic.’ Martin Ellison (Oxford) adds that‘we need to bang on about poverty, distributional issues, regional policy and the like, just as much as financial market supervision and the value of the exchange rate.’

Several reasons are given for this concentration on a limited set of topics by our profession. Andrew Scott (London Business School) says that ‘we develop our own language and a reinforcing list of what the issues are. As a consequence what we say, how we say it and what we talk about do not connect with a range of issues that bother the wider public. Like many experts we prefer to talk amongst ourselves and like to use our language and our concepts and then blame others for not understanding them. In some ways this survey is another example. Who other than experts will look at the results?’

Ray Barrell (Brunel) argues that ‘the incentives we face need changing. Promotion depends on publications and REF [Research Excellence Framework] evaluations, and policy-related output is not highly graded. Whilst this remains the case we will not be noticed.’ Similarly, Panicos Demetriades (Leicester) writes that ‘economics will only become more relevant if the top journals become more open [to papers that challenge the dominant paradigm].’

Although there seems to be consensus that the profession faces some problems and that there is scope for improvements, there is no consensus on the appropriate response. In particular, there is strong opposition to the possibility of an institution, leadership or a coordinated effort to represent the views of academic economists.

A repeated argument given is the importance of academic independence. Ricardo Reis (LSE) writes that ‘As intellectuals, we are more effective when we come up with independent thoughts and arguments that, then when put together, may end up making a diverse strong case for a particular policy option. … Having a “leader” deciding on what is the “common view” would be stifling to scientific inquiry and ultimately work against academic freedom.’ A related argument is made by Patrick Minford (Cardiff) who says that ‘usually a head count of how many there were on each side does not establish which side is right, in ANY science.’

Even among the panel members that agree with the proposition that some change is needed, there is doubt on how to bring that about and in particular whether a stronger RES or leadership could accomplish this. But some panel members do give specific suggestions. Tim Besley (LSE) writes that ‘in hindsight, HMT should have set up an expert body drawn from a range of respected economic experts and asked them to look at the evidence before the referendum that would be the institutional solution I would favour. … The LSE growth commission recommended establishing a standing commission looking at long-term economic evidence and issues, which was independent of government and could offer advice on a range of long-term policy-making. … Had such a body existed, it could have served the role that I mentioned above.’

Simon Wren-Lewis adds that we need ‘regular surveys of ALL academic economists (not just its “stars”) to find out economists’ views on key issues.’

Finally, it should be mentioned that some panel members argue that there is also scope for improvement in terms of the way the media report on economic issues. David Bell (Stirling) would like to see ‘mechanisms being put in place to make the press more accountable for the statements that they make and a review of the BBC Charter so that it reflects the balance of argument among professional economists rather than always giving the impression that there are two sides to every argument (and therefore implicitly weighting them equally).’

The influence of economic arguments in the referendum

The next set of questions asks our panel members about the importance of economic arguments in the outcome of the referendum. Although our experts are very interested in this question and are likely to be careful observers, we want to stress that our panel members are not experts in understanding why voters vote the way they do. Thus, we are breaking new ground with this survey. Nevertheless, it seems natural to ask the profession’s views on whether the economic arguments that were put forward, often with a lot of conviction, mattered.

Question 2: What do you think is the most likely reason that a majority of UK voters went against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

1) Voters chose to leave the EU for non-economic reasons.

2) Voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward (for example, because they thought the arguments put forward by macroeconomists with dissenting views made more sense or because voters have little faith in economists in general)

3) Voters think that the preferences of economists do not align with their own preferences. (This includes the possibility that they thought that the predicted negative economic consequences would not affect them personally).

4) Economists did not explain the reasons for this consensus in sufficiently clear language.

5) Voters did not know that there was near-unanimity among economists.

In questions 3 to 7, we asked for each of these five possibilities whether they were ‘an important’ reason for the Brexit outcome.

Question 2 was answered by 41 of our panel members. A majority of 54% thinks that the most likely reason for the vote for Brexit was that UK voters considered non-economic arguments more important. With 22%, the view that voters perceive economists’ preferences to be different from theirs also receives non-trivial support for the reason most likely for a vote for Brexit.

In the corresponding follow-up question, a strong majority of 71% (when we leave out neither agree nor disagree) indicates that this misalignment did play an important role. A related point is made in a study by political scientists Matthew Goodwin and Oliver Heath:‘the vote for Brexit was delivered by the ‘left behind’ social groups that are united by a general sense of insecurity, pessimism and marginalization, who do not feel as though elites, whether in Brussels or Westminster, share their values, represent their interests and genuinely empathize with their intense angst about rapid social, economic and cultural change.’ [6]

A majority of 68% (leaving out neither agree nor disagree) thinks that voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward. The comments make clear that panel members have different views on why this is the case. Specifically, there is no consensus on whether there was something seriously wrong in how knowledge of the economists was communicated to the public at large.

Ethan Ilzetzki (LSE) writes ‘Economists elaborated the costs of Brexit very clearly. I expect very few in the public were unaware of these costs and for the most part I think they believed the warnings. This was very picked up by the media and put the Brexit camp on the defensive. Michael Gove would not have resorted to attacking “experts” or comparing economists to Nazi scientists if he didn’t feel that our message was getting through to the public. Brexiters consciously campaigned primarily on national pride (“Independence Day”) and immigration, knowing that the economic cost-benefits were not their strong turf.’

By contrast, David Cobham (Heriot-Watt) says that ‘voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward, in part because we’re poor at explaining them to non-economists, and voters probably had little idea about the spread of economists’ views (partly because the BBC felt obliged to “balance”’.

Others also take issue with the way the media represented economic arguments. Morten Ravn (University College London, UCL) comments: ‘The Press distorted the debate. The BBC, for example, gave as much airtime to the 1% minority of economists that supported Brexit as it did to the other 99%.’ Nevertheless, fewer than 30% of the panel members (leaving out those that neither agree nor disagree) think that lack of knowledge of the near unanimity was an important factor and fewer than 5% think that it was the most important reason for the vote for Brexit.

Suppose the main assessments of our panel members are correct. Then one might conclude that this referendum was mainly about things other than economics and that economists should not worry much about the role that economic arguments played. Nor should they be concerned about the possibility that the economic arguments put forward were not received clearly and fairly.

But if our panel members are correct in thinking that a substantial fraction of UK voters believes that the opinions put forward by economists in the public domain only reflect what is beneficial for ‘their type of people’ and are not about objective research focusing on what is good for typical people and/or the country as a whole, then this is something that the academic community surely should take to heart.

One possibility would be to form a non-partisan committee with a wide set of representatives who might outline research questions thought to be important. Universities could then highlight how effective they are in making progress on these issues.

As an additional incentive, government funding as determined, for example, by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) outcome could be made dependent in part on how successful universities are in doing research related to these priorities. This suggestion is consistent with the recommendation of the just published independent review of the REF to emphasise impact on public engagement and understanding.[7]

Endnotes

[1] See https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/economists-say-no-to-brexit.html and also the June CFM survey available at http://cfmsurvey.org/surveys/brexit-potential-financial-catastrophe-and-long-term-consequences-uk-financial-sector. In a recent survey of leading US economists, a large majority thought that the Brexit vote’s outcome would also have long-term negative consequences for the UK economy (and for the rest of the EU). See http://www.igmchicago.org/igm-economic-experts-panel/poll-results?SurveyID=SV_429IHJQVpBV1cnb.

[2] See http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8339

[3] Although Brexit was discussed in a plenary session at the RES 2016 annual conference, summarised at Vox: http://www.voxeu.org/article/royal-economic-society-s-panel-brexit

[4] See https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/economists-brexit-and-media-epilogue.html

[5] See https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jun/18/government-reckless-axing-student-nurse-funding

[6] See http://www.matthewjgoodwin.org/uploads/6/4/0/2/64026337/political_quarterly_version_1_9.pdf

[7] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-excellence-framework-review

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How the experts responded

Do economists communicate effectively with voters?

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics Agree Confident
This question is about a lot of things. I chose to answer with "agree," because I think that the academic profession does not have the right balance in terms of the amount of time spent doing abstract research done mainly for the benefit of other academics and the amount of time spent doing research that is more directly useful for policy makers and the public at large. I also do think that it would be useful to have a prestigious institute that clearly and fairly disseminates existing academic knowledge (and acknowledges when we don't really know). I cannot quite see how we could create such an institution with wide support of the profession. I think there are other ways to correct the main problem, which is the imbalance between abstract research and applied research with more direct benefits. In particular, funding agencies like the ESRC can play a role in correcting this balance.
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR Disagree Confident
Only body that could 'represent' views is RES. It has for many years had a successful media initiative. Fine for publicising research, but couldn't legitimately speak for profession except on matters like research funding.
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Setting up a "Royal College-type" institution that would clearly state the "official" views of the profession on various issues (insofar as such an "official view" can be articulated) might well be useful. However, while I broadly agree with Paul Johnson's comments, I believe that another key problem during the referendum debate had to to with the media through which economists tended to use to communicate their views. It seems to me that those mainly included articles and letters in newspapers such the FT, Guardian, Times and the like, or opinion pieces posted on various blogs. It seems to me that the audience that these media are likely to reach is very selected, and was already overwhelmingly in favor of remaining in the EU.
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Confident
In my opinion, in general it is difficult to have a unified view especially in the field of macroeconomics. I do believe that there is a difficulty in communicating with the public at large more than with policy-makers. introducing leadership could help but also credibility of communication matters. one important component of credibility is the extent to which various views are correct or not and this is difficult to verify ex-post.
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London Disagree Confident
I do not think institutional change is an appropriate response in this situation. More and better communication with the public is a good thing, of course, and it has been developing over the last few decades. The media has been getting better at informing people about economic matters. Think the BBC web site, Guardian, FT, Economist. It still does not reCh readers of the Mail, Sun, and the many who read nothing at all. While society is riven by wide differences of income, wealth, economic security and attitudes, and many newspapers etc dismiss economic arguments as ridiculous, (not only econ, but also political,historical, etc) there is nothing to be done. This is about a much deeper disconnection, and the rise of populism. A better megaphone for a bunch of acdemics for the rare occasions when they agree with each other will not cut the mustard!
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester Disagree Confident
People who voted for BREXIT are largely those who did not benefit from globalisation or lost out. The economics profession currently offers no solution to their problem. It is hard to believe that any communication irrespective how effect that might have been, would have changed the mind of the voters who feel that no one offers a solution to their problems. BREXIT will not solve their problem according to the prevailing view of economists, but if people get no answer, they often accept wrong ones.
David Smith Sunday Times Strongly agree Extremely confident
There was nothing wrong with the arguments put forward by academic economists. There was a lot wrong, however, with the way they were presented. Academic economists did not see the pitfalls of round-robin letters (remember the 364?), or the need to present those arguments in a way that influenced, not just the readers of the broadsheets, but also of the tabloids. The LSE did excellent work, as did the IFS and NIESR, but I suspect the influence on the debate was minimal. Too often it was too easy for the Leave camp to say that the work of academic economists was tarnished because it was EU-funded, even where that was demonstrably not the case. The heavily outnumbered Economists for Brexit group lost the economic argument but nevertheless achieved disproportionate coverage, particularly on the BBC, not least because it invested in PR.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University Strongly disagree Very confident
The medical community has two such institutions, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association. They both clearly came out with united views against Brexit (http://ind.pn/1Zn5QZu), which was a referendum as much about economics as it was about health and medical science given the number of EU-joint policies in this domains. Yet, I see no reason to believe that they succeeded relative to economists at getting their message across (and both failed ultimately in terms of swaying the result). So, to the first part of the question: no, I am not convinced that institutional change to make us more like the Royal College of Nurses would make us more effective in the public debate. To the second part of the question: absolutely not, I don't think more leadership is necessary. As intellectuals, we are more effective when we come up with independent thoughts and arguments that, then when put together, may end up making a diverse strong case for a particular policy option. Surveys like this one ran by the CFM are terrific at reaching this goal. Having a "leader" deciding on what is the "common view" would be stifling to scientific inquiry and ultimately work against academic freedom. These should be our ultimate goals, above the pursuit of policy influence.
Andrew Mountford Royal Holloway Strongly disagree Confident
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow Agree Confident
I think it is quite rare for the profession to need to speak with a collective voice. However, on the occasions that it needs and desires to do so a suitable platform would be useful.
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research Strongly disagree Confident
I find the suggestion that an institution should marshall, communicate or even facilitate the communication of economists' views disturbing. Economists must be able to make their own views known and disagree which each other. This is not the issue. I find the views expressed in the preamble to the question troubling. Let me first declare that I spoke at many Brexit events in cities across the constituent nations of the UK. I agree that there was a real and serious problem with the BBC - there should be an investigation about whether they fulfilled their public role. However, even if every economist in the UK agreed on the loss of GDP and in income per household I doubt the outcome would have been any different. Why? Because a large share of the population simply have seen any benefit of globalisation and so do not believe any of the estimates. As it was said in a Newcastle town-hall style meeting (an area that voted 'remain') 'that's your bloody GDP not mine'. So how much academic research has been carried out on the distributional and regional consequences of EU membership and globalisation? A Brexit vote has been possible for some time. To my knowledged there has been little research on on the UK distributional and regional impact of trade and migration (a bit more here). In my view the issue is how we fund economics in this country and therefore what economists do, rather than the refrain that 'we didn't get our message across'.
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London Disagree Not confident
I am not persuaded institutional change is key here. In fact I think the broad consensus views of the profession were communicated reasonably clearly - for example the joint NIESR/IFS/CEP statement. The issues involved here - what is effective communication, how should messages about economic or statistical issues be framed to as to be effective, etc - are complex, and I would prefer to see further research, evidence and analysis (for instance, commissioned research on the role of "experts" in driving public opinion) before coming to a view on what action the profession should take.
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester Agree Very confident
I agree that we need institutional change to enhance the profession's credibility. I am less convinced that this can be achieved through a mono-leadership, although coordination between various economics organisations could help. Part of the challenge is to make economics more relevant to the real world and more aware of the often missing political economy aspects of their models. Prior to the crisis, mainstream macroeconomics ignored the role of banks and ruled out default by assumption. Much of macroeconomics focussed on Taylor rules, on tweaking the interest rate to achieve macro equilibrium and ignored everything else. As such it became less and less relevant. By paying no attention to banks and default, macroeconomics was inadvertently promoting special interests (i.e. the interests of big banks). Financial economics which studied banks and financial institutions was dominated by views that were consistent with the 'Washington consensus', which openly promoted the interests of big banks, leading to lax regulation. Big banks essentially deciding their own capital requirements allegedly because they knew their risks better than the regulators. Papers that challenge the dominant paradigm are generally very hard to place in 'top journals'. Often the dominant paradigm loses touch with reality and evolves into an exercise of massaging egos to get published. Economics will only become more relevant if the top journals become more open. For this to happen, they also need to manage various conflicts a lot better.
Ray Barrell Brunel University London Agree Very confident
It is clear that the profession needs to change in order to influence the public debate more effectively. However, leadership may not be the answer. The profession holds policy advice in low regard, and few members communicate wit the public. The incentives we face need changing. Promotion depends on publications and REF evaluations, and policy related output is not highly graded. Whilst this remains the case we will not be noticed. For instance, few of the group of economist who appeared in the Daily Telegraph 2 days before the referendum had ever been on the Today programme, the Evening News or the Ten O'Clock News. Nobody outside the blogosphere had had heard of them, and their views were not important. Until that changes, and economists show an interest in, and value, policy related work, we will be ignored. Much needs to change, but it is deeper than ''leadership'.
Michael McMahon University of Oxford Agree Very confident
I think some leadership is needed to ensure that economists learn to put forward their arguments in a way that makes them more accessible to the general public. I do not mean that we have to reduce what we say to catchy soundbites, but we need to speak in terms of things that matter to the general public and explain in clear logic the reasons for such beliefs. But I believe the challenges are larger than just improving communication. I believe that economists are not seen as in touch with the challenges faced by many in the economy. We are, in general, part of the class that benefit from the modern economy and that essentially makes our views irrelevant to many who feel they don’t benefit. This is not unique to the issue of Brexit; Sapienza and Zingales (2013, AER: “Economic Experts vs. Average Americans”) find that economists answers’ to topical survey questions are very different to the answers provided by the general public and the differences are largest on those topics for which there is greatest agreement within the group of economic experts. In order to communicate more clearly, in a way that the general public would more easily understand, the profession needs to understand the issues and challenges facing these people and how they see that these problems are related to the economic environment. Once we do that as a profession, we will be better placed to explain the links as we understand them and to provide convincing guidance on the balance of opinions in any economic debate. I think that doing this involves (at least some) macroeconomists engaging more clearly in issues that face the general public. As the question states, macroeconomists typically focus on the behaviour of aggregate, average developments in the economy and engage with institutions that do likewise (such as the Bank of England). This means the profession needs to engage with different institutions and perhaps even broaden the scope of our analysis of public policy issues. Leadership will be needed to to guide these efforts.
Sean Holly Cambridge University Strongly disagree Extremely confident
I think the question is misplaced. We use profession as a loose, collective term for Economists but we are not a profession in the sense in which the term is used elsewhere, for those, for example, in law, accounting, architecture and medicine. These professions have power over their members. Most have ethical standards and these can be enforced. You can be expelled from the profession.
Nicholas Oulton London School of Economics Strongly disagree Very confident
The question pre-supposes that economists all agreed both on the right questions to ask and on the correct answers so that the problem is one of communication. I disagree. It is now clear that the main issue in the referendum campaign and the reason why "Leave" won was not trade but immigration. On this issue the economics profession's message was that immigration is good for you and more immigration would be even better. Many studies purporting to show that immigration does not reduce wages or job opportunities for the native-born were cited, usually adding the weaselly qualification that there may have been some adverse effects on the low paid. There was virtually no discussion of the effects of immigration on house prices or social housing. The wider issue of the ever-rising proportion of the UK population which is foreign-born (currently over 20%) and whether this is sustainable without loss of social cohesion and as a consequence political instability was never discussed, despite its obvious economic implications. The economics profession is quite happy to discuss the effects of ethnic conflict on growth in Africa. But any such discussion about Britain is either taboo or dismissed as non-economic. The near-unanimity of the profession on Brexit was surprising and suspicious to anyone brought up on the distinction between positive and normative economics or the philosophical principle that you can't derive an "ought" from an "is". Unwillingness to address the immigration issue in a meaningful way suggests a severe dose of political correctness and fears of being accused of racism. A second reason may have been an unacknowledged bias in favour of the EU due to financial self-interest. Most of the economics profession is employed in academia which benefits financially from immigration and EU funding. Fair enough, but this should have been openly acknowledged. This is asking no more than is now expected of natural scientists. The economics profession does not need self-appointed leaders to lay down the law to the rest of us. Rather a franker examination of the issues is required.
David Bell University of Stirling Agree Very confident
Completely agree that better communication mechanisms needed. Some modern arguments within academic economics remind me of the medieval debate about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. The public, who pay for our activity, might rightly be perturbed by the uselessness of such endeavours if they could penetrate its arcane language. I am less clear about the need for "leadership". The Brexit debate revealed very clearly that the UK is not a deferential society. This was most evident in the treatment of the Bank of England and in particular, its governor. But also in the dismissal by the press of various letters of support for the "Remain" case from groups of eminent economists. I would strongly support much more effort being put into: (1) the effort to educate the public on economic issues and (2) mechanisms being put in place to make the press more accountable for the statements that they make and (3) a review of the BBC Charter so that it reflects the balance of argument among professional economists (or scientists, medics etc in relation to their disciplines) rather than always giving the impression that there are two sides to every argument (and therefore implicitly weighting them equally)
Martin Ellison University of Oxford Agree Confident
We do not have a good reputation with the general public. This is in part because many different people work under the label of “economist” in the UK, with a range of interests from the theoretical economists working in academia to analysts working in commercial and retail banks. My reading is that the general public often perceive economists as being of the latter type, interested primarily in finance and the interests of the city. This diminishes our credibility and leads to comments like “well they would say that” when we try to present even things we agree upon. So, if there is to be an institutional change, I would like to see it giving a distinct voice to economists concerned with the whole macroeconomy. We need to bang on about poverty, distributional issues, regional policy and the like, just as much as financial market supervision and the value of the exchange rate.
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Patrick Minford Cardiff Business School Strongly disagree Extremely confident
There is already a body representing economists as a profession, the Royal Economic Society. There are also unions to which economists belong, such as UCU. Economists have views on policy choices but it is quite inappropriate for a professional body to disseminate policy views, as opposed to representing the profession on matters of academic organisation or other academic or professional matters. This was a highly controversial matter on which economists differed greatly in their views. It is true that many UK economists were in favour of Remain but many were not. Usually a head count of how many there were on each side does not establish which side is right, in ANY science. As it happens the 'consensus' view of the remain economists was publicised vigorously by Remain, even including a statement by the Chancellor that the economic case for Remain was a 'Fact'! So certainly these consensus economists did not fail to have their view communicated! Very much the contrary. The RES held a panel meeting at its conference at which no Brexit supporters were invited to speak. This was a strange one-side decision. however if the RES or any other organisation purporting to represent economists were to make it their official policy as professional representatives to put forward a policy view on such a central matter of UK economic policy they would risk discrediting the profession in UK public opinion even more dramatically than it has been already by vociferous majorities in favour of poor UK economic policies over the past decades. The UK majority of economists have repeatedly opposed successful UK economic policy programmes including: --Thatcher 'monetarist' counter-inflation --Thatcher trade union reforms --privatisation --the rather moderate 'austerity' programme of the last Chancellor They also supported: --the failed policy of joining the ERM --joining the euro which most now agree would have been disastrous for the UK Had the RES formally associated itself with these majority views its credibility would have been utterly destroyed. One saving grace in the generally appalling record of majority UK professional opinion among economists is that there is at least respect for freedom of thought and expression in our profession; and indeed that these majority views do Not get translated into some sort of professional body's official actions.
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Academic economists need to be much better engaged with the concerns of policy makers and the public. Moreover, generally speaking the profession has gone backward in this regard over the past thirty years, But I am not convinced that institutional changes are the solution. In particular, I do not believe the state of knowledge on many economic matters is sufficiently settled to warrant a single institution prescribing the "profession's view". That said, we could do more to bring out the areas where economists do agree and to expose the flaws in popular economic discourse (the "lump of labour fallacy", etc).
Jim Malley University of Glasgow Strongly agree Very confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme Strongly disagree Very confident
Hard sciences have enough trouble with a single voice, surely impossible for economics? the debate is good to have.
David Cobham Heriot Watt University Strongly agree Confident
Yes, we need some change, though I'm not sure of what kind. Moreover, some new institutional mechanism won't be useful that often, because economists do disagree on more issues than, say, climate scientists. In addition, we need ourselves to take policy issues and debates and policy interventions more seriously (whatever the incentives the REF does or does not provide) - and, funnily enough, that might be good for our teaching too.
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews Disagree Confident
Andrew Scott London Business School Disagree Confident
I dont think this was about the lack of a single institution with an authority to talk. I do think there are many things that could be done to improve. Oxford has a Chair aimed at communicating science. Something similar could be done in Economics, perhaps sponsored by RES. I would imagine you could raise funds. I think the biggest challenge is that as economists we talk amongst ourselves and policymakers. We develop our own language and a reinforcing list of what the issues are. As a consequence what we say, how we say it and what we talk about do not connect with a range of issues that bother the wider public. Like many experts we prefer to talk amongst ourselves and like to use our language and our concepts and then blame others for not understanding them In some ways this survey is another example. who other than experts will look at the results?
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics Disagree Confident
More can always be done to improve communication, but I'm not sure what type of "institutional change" would alter the reality that economists will only be one small voice in the political discourse, even when they talk in unison. I don't see other sciences faring better. The near unanimity of climate scientists does little to change the views (or interests) of half the American political class. Add to this the fact that economics is a very imprecise science: the public SHOULD take what economists say with a grain of salt. Examples abound. There was near consensus that Argentina of the 1990s was a poster child for reform and we saw how that ended. No one predicted the enormous rise of China. Finally, I think Brexit is a very bad case study from which to to draw conclusions. I believe scientists (social or physical) can affect public opinion only in the long run and it is even harder to get the public to take any concrete action based on scientists advice.
Paolo Surico London Business School Strongly agree Confident
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics Agree Confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London Strongly disagree Very confident
David Miles Imperial College Disagree Confident
I do not see how one establishes when it is clear that "economists have a united view". It is not obvious that on Brexit such a clear view exists. It is not clear, for example, that an economist who believes that the long run cost of Brexit is a few percentage points of GDP and another who thinks it is around 10% of GDP have a united view at all.
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh Disagree Confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics Strongly agree Very confident
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford Strongly agree Extremely confident
The media typically fail to inform readers or viewers when an economic view represents a broad consensus or a small minority. I frequently heard media discussion of Brexit economics which failed in this way. At the very least we need two things. First, an ability through regular surveys of ALL academic economists (not just it's 'stars') to find out economists views are on key issues. It should be fairly easy for a body like the RES to organise these. Second, we need representatives to speak to these views, rather than their own. That will be more difficult, but should not be impossible.
Morten Ravn University College London Disagree Confident
RES can certainly help economists communicate more effectively and it already does so. IT also supports a wide range of engagement activities. Perhaps it could go further forexample hosting a blog or a Vox style website that encourages communication and debate. But RES cannot really participate in the debate in its own right given its remit. In fact, I find it hard to think that a single institution could represent "economists" given the wide set of beliefs and opinions amongst us.
Joseph Pearlman City University London Strongly agree Very confident
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York Strongly disagree Very confident
Economists don’t agree. This is clearly illustrated in the replies to the CFM surveys. Institutionalising the view of the majority would harm the search for the right answer and make the economics profession look ridiculous. Economists should rely on the accuracy of their analysis not on authority or leadership. The UK is not the EU Commission. I prefer an “open society” where we can learn from our mistakes through criticism and considering a plurality of views. This would also best serve the public.
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research Agree Very confident
Economics plays a dominant role in national political debates. And much time is devoted in the media to economic arguments by academics, market economists and people from lobby groups - and earlier in the Spring, the risks of leaving were probably made clear. But once the referendum was announced, and particularly when purdah was introduced, the politicians were given the upper hand, which meant that equal time was given to those on the Remain and Leave side rather than time being allocated to reflect the balance of economic arguments. We need to develop a co-ordinated approach with media that gives us more time and space to get our arguments across at times of national urgency. There is still time.
Tim Besley London School of Economics Agree Very confident
We have to begin from the premise that economists do not speak with one voice. Even on Brexit, there were differing views on the important issues and the magnitudes involved. The fact that they pointed in the same direction for the most part was the main salient fact. The aim should never be to converge on specific predictions but where the balance of probabilities lies. There is no natural vehicle for creating an institutional opinion except for the kind of informal collaborations that occurred. Professional associations such as the Royal Economic Society, British Academy or Econometric Society are rightly set to avoid taking policy positions which would in the end destroy these organizations if people started joining based on whether or not they agreed with the policy stances on particular issues. In hindsight, HMT should have set up an expert body drawn from a range of respected economic experts and asked them to look at the evidence before the referendum -- that would be the institutional solution I would favour. The landscape was just too diffuse for effective communication and the risk associated with publicly-funded bodies too great. The LSE growth commission recommended establishing a standing commission looking at long-term economic evidence and issues which was independent of government and could offer advice on a range of long-term policy-making. We thought that the learned academies (British Academy, Royal Society etc.) would be the right place to start this given their long-standing links to BIS. Had such a body existed, it could have served the role that I mentioned above.
Costas Milas University of Liverpool Agree Very confident
I agree that we need to get better "training" on how to deliver our ideas in an accessible and non-technical manner.

Why didn't voters agree with macroeconomists?

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
Although I do have the feeling that there was no or not much "respect" for the opinion of experts, I suspect that the desire for British voters to "go their own way" was more important.
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR A. Non-economic reasons more important Extremely confident
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London No opinion Confident
I think it's a mix of all points, mainly A, C and D, largely for the reasons stated in my comment about question 1.
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
one issue that in my opinion has been important is the one of sovereignty along with immigration that has in the public opinion point of view also non-economic aspects that might be of more relevance than economic ones. Regarding the economic reasons, it is hard to make claims about long-run economic effects of policy choices because institutional and structural changes can influence the economic performance. Also the global financial crisis has created scepticism on the ability of the economic profession to interpret what is going on.
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London A. Non-economic reasons more important Not confident
Any of A, B, or C seems equally plausible. They all contributed in probably equal measure.
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester B. Arguments considered wrong Confident
The arguments were considered wrong as they did not address the actual problems the voters faced.
David Smith Sunday Times A. Non-economic reasons more important Very confident
Immigration was clearly the key issue for those who voted to leave the EU. Economists did a decent job in arguing for the economic benefits of immigration but a poor job in responding to the concerns of those who were worried about pressures on public services, an apparently limitless rise in the population, etc.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
Andrew Mountford Royal Holloway C. Different preferences Confident
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London A. Non-economic reasons more important Very confident
This is primarily a question for political scientists and/or sociologists rather than economists. My reading of the research and analysis published to data is that identity/cultural issues were determinative - certainly in the sense that, had the referendum been solely on the question of "is the EU good for the UK economy", I think Remain would have won reasonably clearly. Of course, these non-economic factors cannot be entirely or cleanly separated from economic ones. See for example the work by Matt Goodwin of the University of Kent: http://www.matthewjgoodwin.org/uploads/6/4/0/2/64026337/political_quarterly_version_1_9.pdf
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow C. Different preferences Not confident
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research C. Different preferences Very confident
I think there is an element of truth in each option. However, the main reason is that people in many regions have seen loss of job security and a fall in real income over the last decade or two. So why should they believe that (a) trade and the EU are beneficial, (b) the 'average' has anything to do with them?
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester B. Arguments considered wrong Very confident
Many people who voted Brexit underestimated the economic losses and didn't believe all the economic arguments that were put forward. This is partly because some of them were made by politicians 'who would say that, wouldn't they?'. But importantly economists were ignored, which seems to suggest that the public doesn't attach much weight to what most economists were saying.
Ray Barrell Brunel University London A. Non-economic reasons more important Not confident
Persuasive politicians, who describe their opponents as 'like the Nazi scientists who criticised Einstein' are difficult to answer when few academic economists have any media capacity or experience. If the public are unaware that we are expressing more than our opinions, but rather the result of careful empirical research, then they will be hard to influence. They may prefer their own opinions. The decision to leave was probably based on a generalised unhappiness with current conditions, with no evidence being presented to explain the EU's lack of role in that. Whether preferences describe political decision making is another question, but we saw a political rejection of the current situation. We do not clearly know why, but we do know referenda are the wrong way to make such complex decisions. That people have voted to leave does not change the outcome of leaving. Underlying growth will be low for a decade, and we will be 3 to 6 percent poorer than otherwise in ten years, with less foreign investment and less competition. There is no need to change what we are saying, and we have to argue for outcomes that minimise the damage.
Michael McMahon University of Oxford C. Different preferences Confident
I find this a very hard question to answer as the five reasons are clearly interrelated. I believe that all play some role in explaining the decisions of some of the Leave voters. But, overall, I find reason A an important expected benefit of Brexit, and reason C as a key driver of the belief that there were not likely to be important economic costs for individual voters. I have opted for reason C as my answer to stay focused on the economic aspects of the voting outcome. Expanding on these thoughts a little. I think that reason A, the existence of non-economic benefits, played a major part in most Leave voters decisions. This could be a perceived benefit of stopping immigration, or gains to bringing more decisions under Westminster control, or something else. In fact, I believe that a subset of the Leave voters had a full understanding that there would, most likely, be economic costs and nonetheless thought the (mostly non-economic) benefits were worth it. Others, however, may have weighed up the perceived benefits for non-economic reasons (A) against little economic costs (reason B) and hence concluded in favour of Leave. In terms of the failure to get across economists’ assessment of the economic costs, I think that reason C is generally true (as alluded to above). As discussed in the answer to question 1, I think this is related to economists’ focus on the aggregate implications which fail to resonate with many voters. Many citizens have been told of growth and, since 2011, of recovery but they do not see any evidence for it in their lives. As such, telling them that there will be less of this much-coveted growth is no cost to them. But a belief that there would be little economic cost likely also followed from a failure to communicate clearly (reason D) and a lack of confidence of the profession (reason E).
Sean Holly Cambridge University A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
Talking to an entirely unrepresentative sample of leavers, I got the impression that while they were willing to accept the (short term) economic losses; it was worth it to regain parliamentary sovereignty and control over immigration.
Nicholas Oulton London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Not confident
I have argued in my response to Question 1 that the main issue in the referendum campaign was immigration. So economists' answers may have been alpha plus but they were not answering the question on the exam paper. Interestingly none of the alternatives offered here quite fits my view, though A might come close. It was a vote against immigration but the reasons may have been economic as well as non-economic.
David Bell University of Stirling A. Non-economic reasons more important Very confident
Two points: one group who have not seen their circumstances improve over a long period was playing an ultimatum game, arguing that change could not make them worse off. Some had a mistaken view of the nature of sovereignty that was clouded by a nostalgic view of Britain's past and others had concerns about immigration, which in some cases were real but in most were imaginary.
Martin Ellison University of Oxford C. Different preferences Confident
I think we have to be careful not to promote a cosy narrative that does not challenge our profession too much. What if, instead, the leave supporters made a well-informed rational choice that it was in their own interests to leave the EU? It's not difficult to believe this - many people see a decline in their community and a failure of politics to offer a viable solution for turning it around. These people are worried about not having a house, not having a job, and having to send their children to a failing school. With no faith that political parties would create meaningful reforms, to them it seems worth the risk of voting to leave. My worry is that we in the economics profession are not just *seen* as part of the class that benefits from the modern economy, we *are* the class that benefits from membership of the EU. We live in successful metropolitan areas close to our universities, earning salaries many multiples of those in most of the leave areas, and have only limited interactions with the other regions of the UK. I have colleagues who have been in the UK many years and still never been outside Oxford and London. Many academics send their kids to private schools.
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Very confident
Patrick Minford Cardiff Business School No opinion Extremely confident
The polling evidence suggests that voters knew the 'consensus' view was highly negative and were worried about it. On this factor there was an anti-Brexit majority of some 22% apparently around the time the Treasury published its first (long-term) report. This makes it clear that these views were widely publicised and known. However by the time of the vote this anti-Brexit percentage had fallen to 6%, indicating there had been swing on this factor on the basis of the arguments as understood. Note that it was still negative, clearly indicating that the consensus was known and powerful. However of course voters had strong views on non-economic factors, which is why I cannot really answer these questions. Basically they did not believe the economic consensus views sufficiently to be deterred from voting to leave on other grounds.
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
For many of those voting to leave, economists' warnings seem to have cut little ice, in part because public trust in economists' (and elites' more generally) ability to predict the future is very low (e.g. most didn't see the financial crisis coming, etc.). Concerns about controlling inward migration and reclaiming sovereignty appear to have weighed more heavily for those voting Leave.
Jim Malley University of Glasgow A. Non-economic reasons more important Very confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme C. Different preferences Not confident
David Cobham Heriot Watt University A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
I believe non-economic reasons were important, but in addition voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward, in part because we're poor at explaining them to non-economists, and voters probably had little idea about the spread of economists' views (partly because the BBC felt obliged to do 'balance'). Option C seems to me to have been less important (despite M Gove's best efforts).
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews A. Non-economic reasons more important Very confident
Andrew Scott London Business School C. Different preferences Not confident
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Extremely confident
I disagree with entire premise of this question. Whatever the failings of economists in general, this one was NOT our fault. Economists elaborated the costs of Brexit very clearly. I expect very few in the public were unaware of these costs and for the most part I think they beleived the warnings. This was very picked up by the media and put the Brexit campaign on the defensive. Michael Gove would not have resorted to attacking "experts" or comparing economists to Nazi scientists if he didn't feel that our message was getting through to the public. Brexiters consciously campaigned primarily on national pride ("Independence Day") and immigration, knowing that the economic cost-benefit were not their strong turf. There is nothing economists could do in 90 days before the referendum to overturn the visceral feelings English voters have towards the EU, following decades of political and media scapegoating of this institution. Even the leaders of remain (Cameron, Corbyn) were lukewarm supporters of the UK remaining in the EU. The referendum was won on turnout (particularly given the bad weather on referendum day). The side that felt its case more intensely won. Brexit was was not an academic failure and occurred despite an unusually concerted effort on behalf of academics. Instead it was a political failure as evidenced by the collapse of a whole class of politicians both on the Remain and Leave sides.
Paolo Surico London Business School B. Arguments considered wrong Extremely confident
The Leave camp painted a glorious economic future outside the EU and leveraged on national pride versus European dependence. The Remain camp choose "Project Fear" as their best card. Economists and Remain camp politicians failed to make accessible for the average voter that the INDIRECT economic benefits of being part of the EU have reached out the vast majority of the British population, including most voters outside London and belonging to older generations.
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics C. Different preferences Confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
David Miles Imperial College A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident
For many people issues of sovereignty seemed the key ones. Obviously that is not inconsistent with recognising that there were likely to be some economic costs from Brexit.
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh B. Arguments considered wrong Confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics No opinion Confident
The causes were multiple. Immigration certainly played a role in the exit vote, and many voters (partly encouraged by misleading politicians) thought immigration was to be blamed for their problems, while those problems are more complex and date longer. Skill-biased technological progress, globalization, and the fall of unions have created winners and losers, and the latter have not been compensated for their losses. They saw their standards of living deteriorate since the late 1970s, while at the same time salaries at the top of the distribution rocketed. Inequality is a critical issue in the UK and the West that needs to be addressed. Brexit was mostly an angry vote against the lack of progress of the bottom half.
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford E. Near unanimity not known Confident
Those voting Leave wanted control over EU immigration, and it is pretty clear that EU membership precludes that. However polling evidence also showed that most would not be prepared to pay for this: indeed many thought restricting immigration would lead to economic benefits. This suggests the message of economics that leaving would be costly failed to get through or was not believed. Understanding why that is is crucial, and although I indicate that I think it was largely a media failure, we really need some good research on this (relatively quickly while it is fresh in people's minds).
Morten Ravn University College London E. Near unanimity not known Very confident
The Press distorted the debate. BBC, for example, gave as much air time to the 1% minority of economists that supported Brexit as it did to the other 99 %. Other parts of the Press refused to print letters etc that argued that the EU brings value and that Brexit would be costly because, it was argued, it had "no news value." For that reason, Brexit support received a disproportional amount of coverage in the press. On top of this, many voters support Brexit for non-economic reasons such as anti-immigrant feelings and as a protest view. Voters did not really have an in-depth knowledge of what the EU actually is because of the lack of sound debate and information.
Joseph Pearlman City University London D. Message not clear Very confident
Many of the poorest parts of the country voted for Brexit because they were concerned about the negative impact on wages of immigration. In fact this is borne out by the research of Dustmann et al (2013). MPs opposing Brexit should have acknowledged this, and made a pledge to address this as a matter of urgency.
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York A. Non-economic reasons more important Extremely confident
Contrary to what many economists might like to think the referendum was not decided on economic grounds. Most Leave voters seemed to have decided largely on political, not economic, grounds. They understood that there would be an economic cost in the short run but thought that the political benefits were more important, especially in the long run. Where Leave voters took account of economic factors, they were probably voting against the effects of globalisation, especially those in the north of England. For example, Sunderland voted leave even though it was not obviously in their interest.
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research C. Different preferences Confident
Those who voted for Leave were registering a protest vote about so many aspects of the recent past, from regional inequality, to the a sense of exclusion to a statement about a lack of national cohesiveness in the face of financial crisis and increasing globalisation. It was not simply a vote about the economic risks of leaving the EU.
Costas Milas University of Liverpool A. Non-economic reasons more important Extremely confident
Voters were more than anything else interested in restricting net migration flows to the UK. Don't forget also that BREXIT leaders attacked economic ‘experts’ who overwhelmingly warned against the huge economic risks of BREXIT. Their (rather) odd argument was that economic ‘experts’ have to be wrong because…they did not predict the 2008-2009 financial crisis! With Brexit ON, I am...ecstatic to report that we will know pretty soon whether economists (including myself) are going to be wrong this time around...
Tim Besley London School of Economics A. Non-economic reasons more important Confident

Non-economic reasons more important

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics Strongly agree Very confident
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR Strongly agree Extremely confident
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London Strongly agree Confident
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics Agree Confident
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London Strongly agree Confident
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester Agree Not confident
The issue of sovereignty did matter to some extent for voters.
David Smith Sunday Times Strongly agree Extremely confident
"Taking back control", whether related to immigration or sovereignty, was a powerful Leave slogan, to which economists struggled for a response.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University Agree Confident
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow Disagree Confident
Immigration was a central theme, and immigration is an economic issue.
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research Disagree Confident
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London Strongly agree Very confident
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Ray Barrell Brunel University London Agree Confident
Michael McMahon University of Oxford Strongly agree Very confident
Sean Holly Cambridge University Strongly agree Confident
David Bell University of Stirling Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Some voted to leave based on the issue of sovereignty. Others were persuaded by "economic" arguments. These were delivered through simple, often erroneous, sound bites, that perhaps resonated with that section of the public more familiar with game shows than serious debate.
Martin Ellison University of Oxford Agree Confident
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics Agree Confident
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics Strongly agree Extremely confident
Jim Malley University of Glasgow Strongly agree Very confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme Agree Confident
David Cobham Heriot Watt University Strongly agree Very confident
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews Agree Very confident
Andrew Scott London Business School Agree Confident
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics Strongly agree Extremely confident
Paolo Surico London Business School Agree Confident
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London Strongly agree Very confident
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh Agree Not confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics Agree Confident
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford Disagree Confident
Joseph Pearlman City University London Disagree Confident
Tim Besley London School of Economics Strongly agree Confident
One problem is that we tend to see migration as a purely economic issue where the benefits are clear looking at the economy as a whole. Even though there was lots of misinformation, it does not get away from the fact that the migration is symbolic of concerns about a wider loss of sovereignty which is why the "take back control" message was so powerful. This was mistakenly dismissed too readily as pure "xenophobia". In the end, these are issues of political economy, not economics per se. I suspect that many "out" voters also had doubts about the competence of the EU to resolve issues as evidenced by the Eurozone crisis and the migration crisis. It is hard to get away from the argument that creating the Euro was an act of great folly driven by political ambition. Even though we stayed out in the UK, it reflects poorly on those key decision-makers who are at the heart of the European project. Little of the argument put forward by economists about the economic costs to the UK speaks to these issues directly even though the logic is compelling and by being dismissive of these concerns, we may have come over as remote from the thinking driving the out campaign. In the end, the argument had to be that we could play a more important role in influencing the direction of economic affects which will impact on the UK if were in than out. But clearly that is quite a subtle argument to get over and it is hard to provide direct evidence to support it of an economic nature.
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York Strongly agree Extremely confident
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Costas Milas University of Liverpool Strongly agree Confident

Arguments considered wrong

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics Agree Confident
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR Disagree Very confident
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics Agree Confident
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London Agree Confident
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester Agree Confident
David Smith Sunday Times Strongly agree Very confident
Too often, particularly on the broadcast media, the economic arguments appeared to be a tit for tat. Non-experts genuinely didn't know which side to believe.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow Agree Not confident
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research Agree Confident
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester Strongly agree Very confident
Ray Barrell Brunel University London Neither agree nor disagree Very confident
Michael McMahon University of Oxford Agree Very confident
Sean Holly Cambridge University Disagree Confident
David Bell University of Stirling Agree Confident
Messages were coming from a variety of sources - press, interest groups, politicians as well as economists. Not clear that economists were able to portray themselves as a distinctive, and more authoritative, source of information.
Martin Ellison University of Oxford Agree Confident
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics Agree Confident
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics Agree Very confident
Jim Malley University of Glasgow Disagree Confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme Disagree Confident
David Cobham Heriot Watt University Agree Confident
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews Agree Confident
Andrew Scott London Business School Agree Confident
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics Strongly disagree Very confident
Paolo Surico London Business School Strongly agree Very confident
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics Agree Confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London Strongly disagree Very confident
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh Agree Confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford Disagree Not confident
Joseph Pearlman City University London Strongly agree Extremely confident
The Treasury forecast of the costs of Brexit was performed at a very low standard, and could have been convincingly revised down to the more plausible figure suggested by the IFS. The big difference in forecasts could not have instilled confidence in the population at large.
Tim Besley London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York Disagree Confident
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research Disagree Confident
Costas Milas University of Liverpool Agree Confident

Different preferences

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics Agree Confident
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR Agree Confident
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London Agree Confident
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London Agree Confident
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester Disagree Very confident
David Smith Sunday Times Strongly agree Very confident
A common response I received during the referendum campaign was that it was not just about economics. Somehow, economists were identified with a cold and calculating view of the world, regardless of wider concerns.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University Agree Not confident
Andrew Mountford Royal Holloway Agree Confident
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London Agree Not confident
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow Agree Confident
Many may have felt that they gained little (or lost) by being in the EU and, therefore, that would would lose little (or gain) by leaving it.
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research Agree Very confident
I think there is an element of truth in each option. However, the main reason is that people in many regions have seen loss of job security and a fall in real income over the last decade or two. So why should they believe that (a) trade and the EU are beneficial, (b) the 'average' has anything to do with them?
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester Agree Confident
Ray Barrell Brunel University London Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Michael McMahon University of Oxford Strongly agree Very confident
Sean Holly Cambridge University No opinion Confident
David Bell University of Stirling Agree Confident
Economists were portrayed as another privileged group that benefited from EU membership. How often was the link made to often tenuous links to EU funding used as a means of discrediting their messages? If you don't like the message, attack the messenger.
Martin Ellison University of Oxford Strongly agree Confident
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics No opinion Not confident at all
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Jim Malley University of Glasgow Disagree Confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme Strongly agree Confident
David Cobham Heriot Watt University Disagree Confident
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews Disagree Not confident
Andrew Scott London Business School Agree Confident
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics Disagree Not confident
This statement is far to general and sweeping. I would guess that the median voter doesn't feel that economist have different preferences from their own, but there certainly are some voters that feel this way and are therefore untouched by economic arguments. My guess is that this is a small minority.
Paolo Surico London Business School Disagree Confident
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics Strongly agree Very confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London Strongly disagree Very confident
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh Agree Not confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics Agree Confident
Most economists benefited from technology and globalization!
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Joseph Pearlman City University London Disagree Confident
Tim Besley London School of Economics Agree Confident
There was an element of this. We are happy to trade-off costs and benefits to get an aggregate outcome. Anyone who has spent time involved in policy-making knows that these arguments tend to grate with people who see the issues much more in terms of the lives of affected people. There are many with more anecdotal views of the world who think that those who look at aggregate outcomes does not align well with their circumstances. It is hard to explain to painter-decorator who has struggled to put up prices for ten years, which he/she blames on migrants, that they should not care about this because the aggregate economic picture favours staying in. This is always a struggle in economic policy discussion where the criteria that economists use to look at benefits and costs are not see easy to communicate to the general public.
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York Agree Confident
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research Strongly agree Confident

Message not clear

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics Agree Confident
In answering this question, I include journalists writing about economics as economists.
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR Strongly Disagree Confident
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London Agree Confident
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics Agree Confident
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London Disagree Confident
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester Disagree Confident
I do not believe that more clarity would have changed the voters' mind.
David Smith Sunday Times Strongly agree Very confident
Too often economists assumed that the arguments for staying in the EU were self-evident. There was a lack of clarity, and often a detachment. This was one occasion when it was not sufficient to win the intellectual argument.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University Disagree Confident
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London Strongly Disagree Very confident
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research Disagree Not confident
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester Agree Confident
Ray Barrell Brunel University London Agree Confident
Michael McMahon University of Oxford Agree Confident
Sean Holly Cambridge University Disagree Confident
Given the difficulties that proper scientists have in persuading the public of the importance of climate change and its anthropomorphic origins, I do not think that Economists should get too exercised about this.
David Bell University of Stirling Strongly agree Very confident
There are far too few academic economists with the ability to convey their arguments clearly to the public, or even with an interest in engaging with the public (doesn't count towards the REF?).
Martin Ellison University of Oxford Disagree Confident
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics Strongly Disagree Very confident
Jim Malley University of Glasgow Strongly Disagree Very confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme Strongly Disagree Very confident
David Cobham Heriot Watt University Strongly agree Very confident
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews Disagree Confident
Andrew Scott London Business School Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics Strongly Disagree Extremely confident
Paolo Surico London Business School Strongly agree Extremely confident
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh Disagree Confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford Disagree Confident
Joseph Pearlman City University London Disagree Confident
Lack of consensus in the predicted effects was the issue. Had there been similar predictions of the effects, then maybe this question would have been relevant.
Tim Besley London School of Economics Strongly Disagree Confident
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York Strongly Disagree Extremely confident
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research Neither agree nor disagree Confident

Near unanimity not known

Participant Answer Confidence level Comment
Wouter Den Haan London School of Economics Agree Confident
the near unanimity was not made clear by the media who gave a disproportional voice to those who disagreed with majority opinion.
Richard Portes London Business School and CEPR Strongly agree Extremely confident
Fabien Postel-Vinay University College London Disagree Confident
Gianluca Benigno London School of Economics Disagree Confident
John Driffill Birkbeck College, University of London Disagree Confident
Akos Valentinyi University of Manchester Disagree Confident
Non of the economic arguments against BREXIT addressed any of the questions the voters who lost out from globalisation care about. Why should they listen to arguments which are not relevant for their everyday life.
John VanReenen London School of Economics Agree Not confident
David Smith Sunday Times Strongly agree Extremely confident
The overwhelming majority of voters had no idea that the consensus was so clearly in favour of staying in the EU. This was partly the fault of the broadcasters - and some newspapers - as noted. But it was also the nature of the campaign. People like Steve Hilton, David Cameron's former adviser, could get away with ridiculously claiming that the economic argument had been won by the Leave side. Anything went, from £350m a week, to claims like that, in this campaign.
Ricardo Reis London School of Economics and Columbia University Disagree Confident
Jonathan Portes KIng's College, London Disagree Very confident
Richard Dennis University of Glasgow Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Angus Armstrong National Institute of Economic and Social Research Agree Confident
Panicos Demetriades University of Leicester Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Ray Barrell Brunel University London Agree Confident
Michael McMahon University of Oxford Agree Confident
Sean Holly Cambridge University Disagree Confident
David Bell University of Stirling Agree Very confident
Attempts to convey the unanimity message seemed to have little resonance with the media, partly because some outlets (mostly print) didn't want to convey this, while other were bound to convey the "on the one hand, on the other" form of argument.
Martin Ellison University of Oxford Disagree Not confident
Paul De Grauwe London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Not confident at all
Sir Charles Bean London School of Economics Strongly disagree Very confident
Jim Malley University of Glasgow Strongly disagree Extremely confident
Kate Barker British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme Disagree Confident
David Cobham Heriot Watt University Agree Confident
Alan Sutherland University of St. Andrews Neither agree nor disagree Not confident
Andrew Scott London Business School Disagree Not confident
Ethan Ilzetzki London School of Economics Disagree Confident
Paolo Surico London Business School Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Francesco Caselli London School of Economics Agree Confident
Jan Eeckhout University College London Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Mike Elsby University of Edinburgh Disagree Confident
Silvana Tenreyro London School of Economics Agree Confident
Simon Wren-Lewis University of Oxford Agree Confident
Joseph Pearlman City University London Disagree Very confident
Tim Besley London School of Economics Neither agree nor disagree Confident
Michael Wickens Cardiff Business School & University of York Strongly disagree Very confident
Jagjit Chadha National Institute of Economic and Social Research Neither agree nor disagree Confident